Awesome tech doesn't end here.
We’re really not trying to rain on Palmer Luckey’s parade. The Oculus CEO and his team have worked for years and are understandable thrilled to finally launch the Rift virtual reality headset into the wild. Everything we’ve seen personally has been fairly impressive—even if not everyone agrees with that.
But with all due respect, Luckey’s enthusiasm might be starting to run away with him. Rather than seeing virtual reality as the next great leap in technology, he’s starting to prosthelytize it as the end-all, be-all of technological achievements.
“If you have perfect virtual reality eventually, where you’re be able to simulate everything that a human can experience or imagine experiencing, it’s hard to imagine where you go from there,” Luckey told NPR on Monday. “Once you have perfect virtual reality, what else are you supposed to perfect?”
Again, with all due respect, that’s just stupid.
There are all sorts of exciting technological breakthroughs still to be made—some seemingly in the semi-near term, others a little (or a lot) further out. Here are a few things we’re eager to explore further:
The Hyperloop: No matter how ubiquitous VR may become, there will still be times you have to physically travel from city to city. Planes are fine in some cases. But Tesla CEO Elon Musk‘s idea of a system that efficiently shoots hovering pods full of cargo or passengers through a depressurized tube at a pace of up to 700 mph sure sounds appealing. Two companies, Hyperloop Tech and HTT, are already trying to bring this vision to reality, with both now in various stages of building test tracks. Hyperloop Tech seems to be the leader. The company is expected to get nearly $9.2 million in tax incentives from the state of Nevada to help its tests.
How does the Hyperloop work? Watch:
Tricorder: If Walter De Brouwer, CEO of Scanadu, has his way, Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy won’t be the only one with a tricorder medical scanner before too long. Scanadu’s handheld device measures five vital signs in roughly 30 seconds and has raised nearly $50 million in venture capital funding. The device is currently awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration with hopes to go on sale later this year. If it lives up to its potential, a real-life tricorder could revolutionize at-home healthcare and how patients interact with their doctors.
Commercial Space Travel: Yep, it’s undeniably cool to experience floating in outer space while wearing a Rift or other VR headset. Games like Adr1ft convey the sense of awesomeness and wonder of being freed from Earth’s gravitational pull. But you know what’s cooler? Actually being out there.
Sir Richard Branson is hoping to lead the charge with his commercial space travel outfit, Virgin Galactic. Roughly 700 people have already signed up for the $250,000 rides, plotted to take them 62 miles above the planet and offer a few moments of weightlessness as well as a view of Earth from space. Also in the race for out-of-this-world tourism are Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, and Boeing. Heck, even NASA is booking commercial flights now.
Self-Driving Cars: Telecommuting may be big now, and it could become even bigger should VR become a common part of mainstream life. Still, plenty of people will still have to make an actual commute to the office.
But if they could they use that time more efficiently and commute with a higher degree of safety, that’s pretty appealing too. Google, among others, is serious about bringing self-driving cars to the road—and soon. The automotive artificial intelligence was recently qualified as a legal driver by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.
Flying Cars: Avery Brooks’s outrage at the lack of flying cars at the beginning of this IBM commercial struck a chord with many viewers.
Sure, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor might have backed off the demand for George Jetson’s ride by the end of the spot, but viewers still wanted one.
We’re still a bit far out on this vehicular advancement, but the dream has wings, nonetheless. The Federal Aviation Administration gave flying car company Terrafugia the green light to start testing its prototypes later this year.
Teleportation: While the tricorder might be within reach, we’ve still got a long way to go on Star Trek‘s transporter technology. Yet it may not be quite as impossible as it seems. In 2012, physicists in China reportedly were successful in beaming photons more than 97 kilometers. The downside: zapping physical objects from one place to another is still just a pipe dream.
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Warp Drive: One of the main staples of any science fiction film is a starship sporting engines propelling it faster than the speed of light. Call it warp speed, hyperdrive, an FTL device—whatever you’d like. (It’s fiction, after all.) But it sure would make exploring the rest of the universe a lot more handy.
The Internet, on a semi-frequent basis, gets in a tizzy about NASA making advances in this field (as the Internet is wont to do). Once again, the space agency shot down that talk in a statement last year, retorting “traveling at the speed of light is simply imaginary at present.” That’s not stopping the Tau Zero Foundation, run by a former NASA Glenn Research Center physicist, from seeking advancements in propulsion that would make interstellar flight possible.
Time Machine: The joke among physicists is they’re all waiting for their future selves to come back in time to tell them how to make a time machine. (Oh, those nutty physicists!)
No joke: one University of Connecticut research professor is seriously trying to make it happen. We’re not going to hold our collective breath, but we will keep our fingers crossed.
(On a final note, while a virtual simulation might be nice, there’s very little that’s not better in reality.)